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Pick up the Pieces

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“How long have I been gone?”

There’s a moment. She’s afraid for the answer.

“Thirty-three years.”

That’s - it’s too much. It’s too long. It couldn’t be any less, not with him a grown man, but it’s still too much and she feels herself tremble.

“Dean.”

He looks – he looks devastated. She doesn’t know his face, not this face, but that expression is all little boy, little Dean she knew.

“Hi Mom.”

She reaches out, just to make sure he’s real. She doesn’t plan to hug him but she does, halfway because she has to. She can’t help it, and she’s not sure if she’s seeking or giving comfort, not really, but her arms move anyway and she doesn’t try to stop it.

It’s a long time before she can catch her breath or move away. Eventually, she has to. She has a million questions, a million fears, and the longer she stands the more they well up.

She pulls away. “I have...”

Dean sniffs and clears his throat. His cheeks and eyes are dry but she looks away for a moment anyway.

“Questions.”

“Yeah. Right, of course.”

There’s a lot to parse. Her hands shake. Thirty-three years. Is that what he said? Thirty-three... Dean is older than her, Sammy is older than her, and Dean tells her but it’s hard to believe -

“You’re hunters?”

“Yeah. Me ‘n Sammy.”

Thank god he’s alive. Thank god he’s okay. Her baby, her sweet child, and the last sight she’d seen beneath her, blood dripping -

“Where is he?” She looks behind her as if he too might pop out of the bushes any moment.

“Back home.”

Home. They have a home. They live together? As adults? What about -

“And... John?”

Dean looks at his hands. “He’s... he passed. Ten years ago.”

She’s a widow.

“Just yesterday, today, I was – I was at home with my two beautiful sons and my husband and now it’s thirty years later and the love of my life is...” She inhales but she can’t hold it in. The sound she lets out is a sob and she wishes she could stop it, but has to clap her hand over her mouth to keep any more from coming. He gives her the minutes she needs to collect herself.

And then he unravels a tale in fits and starts that ends with a Mark on his arm and a cosmic being – God's sister? - bringing her back to life.

It makes no sense. She hangs on to every word.

When Dean was 3 and learning to talk, he’d start telling aimless, winding stories, with a huge grin on his face. All she’d have to do was nod or make a noise while cutting the crusts off his sandwiches and he’d talk until his throat was scratching. He'd talk through food in his mouth. She was never sure where he got it because it wasn’t from her or John but she adored it, that chatting. A few months later when Sam came along, Dean would direct his stories at his baby brother, cooing at him for hours on end.

It’s familiar and she clutches to it. Because nothing else in any of what he just said feels familiar in the slightest.

“It’s a lot to process, I know.”

She clears her throat. “It is. A lot. But I’m still stuck on... how well you’re taking all this.”

His lips quirk. She didn’t mean it as a compliment, but it seems he’ll take it as one, even if he’s otherwise looking serious. “Yeah. This isn’t the first... resurrection. Our line of work, but also it...” He hesitates, then sighs. “Me and Sammy, we’ve both been... resurrection runs in the family.”

She can’t breathe.

“But don’t worry – we’re still kicking.”

The sun’s poked up over the horizon now and she sighs. It takes a few minutes, but she’s able to nod, to put her head in order.

There’s a million questions; they all clamour to be asked first. She needs a pen and paper, or space and time to sort her head out. But there’s one thing she needs to know, before she moves forward in any other direction. She asks how John died. The answer Dean gives is vague, but enough for now. She dries her eyes and nods, repeats a summary of what she understands so far, says it aloud to make sure it’s all correct.

It is. It can’t be, but it is.

Dean ushers her off the bench. He says he’s taking her home. Wherever home is to her hunter sons.

 

-

 

They stop for food after the second time her stomach grumbles. She looks at the nightgown she’s still wearing. Dean pulls into a second-hand store and, a little embarrassed by her appearance but worse things have happened, she follows him in and finds an outfit. Dean pulls a rectangle out of his pocket, small and black and sleek and reminiscent of a Star Trek communicator, and frowns at it while she picks something out. She doesn’t dally and they’re getting some fast food minutes later.

She’s still wearing his jacket. The smell reminds her of John.

Things look different. She’s mostly silent, taking it all in. Some things haven’t changed at all, some shopfronts that would fit right in where she’s from. The car models are all different, sleeker, the fashion its own thing but not as futuristic as she would have guessed. All in all, it’s nothing like Blade Runner.

“No flying cars?” she quips, a safe topic.

“Heh, no. Jetsons lied to us all.”

For a moment, it's something lighter. She wants to hold on to it, but she can’t. She’s being handled. It’s hard to blame him for it, but still it rankles.

“What should I know about the future?” A different tact. He seems to consider it.

“This.” He pulls the Star Trek toy out of his pocket and tosses the black rectangle onto her lap.

“What is it?”

“A phone.”

This is a telephone?” She rotates it in her hands and a screen lights up, tells her the time. She wasn’t so far off with Star Trek communicator after all.

“Just uh, just swipe the screen.”

“Swipe?”

“Drag your finger on it.”  He reaches over and does it for her. The screen responds to his touch. The Jetsons comment doesn’t seem so far off anymore. It looks and feels more like the future than even her images of the future had been.

It responds to her touch too. She doesn’t know much about what it does, but Dean tells her she can call people, message them, mail them, watch TV and movies and listen to songs and do more. That with one she could connect to the world through it at the touch of a button, find out almost anything there is to know. It’s all been written on a web of information that spans the globe, connected by under-ocean wires and satellites and accessed by phones and computers everywhere. And everyone has one or more, sitting neatly in their pocket.

It’s almost too much. She hands the rectangle telephone back to him and doesn’t ask any more questions till they’re pulling into Lebanon.

 

-

 

An Angel. An Angel? An ANG -

The blows keep coming. The Men of Letters are real, she’s in their bunker, she’s talking to someone (something?) claiming to be a holy Angel, for all it just looks like a man, for all her son embraced it like it was family, and her second son has been abducted.

She wants to ask about fluffy wings. Dean makes a comment about harps. She wonders if the Angel has a halo.

But Sam is missing, and halos don’t matter for the moment.

The gun Dean handed her feels familiar and heavy in her hand. He’s comfortable with his, moves so easily with it that she hadn’t realized through the whole night that he’d had it tucked in the seat of his pants until he needed to use it.

It’s written in every step he takes - danger. It’s in the line of his shoulders and how he holds a gun and the way he stalks through a bunker he calls home with an Angelic being (monster?) trailing behind him, and it catches in her throat.

Her father had walked like that, but not until his later years, not except for on a hunt, and never in their home. Dean’s too young, too good -

She pushes it down. She has to. This isn’t her baby (it is, he is, but he’s not. He stopped being that the day she died, and maybe before. Maybe before he was ever born, when she sealed his fate to save his father. This is – this is all on her). This isn’t her baby, this is a hunter, and one who’s brother is missing.

At least she can find comfort in the leather of the Impala. At least they have that. At least there’s one souvenir from the past that’s just as old as she feels, still radiant as she remembers.

 

-

 

Dean’s face has more lines than hers. It’s a weird, potentially unkind thought. She traces his visage over and over with her eyes but now that his jaw is set, focused on finding Sam, it’s hard to find any resemblance to the little boy she raised.

He’s older than she is. It would be absurd, a man older than her calling her Mom. It should be absurd. Her eyes sting.

Dean’s eyes don’t. His are flat, expression flinty. He’s driving the Impala like a bat out of hell and his father would be rolling in his grave if he had one, seeing how this car is being treated.

“We’ll find him,” Dean utters, notices her staring. She shifts, facing forward, the road ahead.

“I know,” she replies, pretends that’s why concern was etched on her face. She is concerned for Sam, her baby, and she thinks it will be a cruel irony if her second son dies before she gets to meet him. It might also be a mercy, because she doesn’t know how she’s going to look him in the eye, and even if she manages, doesn’t know how she’s going to reconcile her sweet, already clever 6-month old baby with a grown man. If his eyes are anything like Dean’s, she’s not sure it’ll be possible.

“Tell me about him?”

Dean chews the inside of his cheek. Maybe she shouldn’t have asked. But after a minute, everything about his face and stance shifts; his eyes soften; the line of his shoulders relaxes a fraction; a smile teases his lips, overly fond.

“Sammy’s smart. Cleverest guy I know. Eats his veggies, watches his cholesterol, all that healthy stuff. Not sure how the hell he’s a hunter with all that rabbit food but he’s a damn good one. Tall as - ” he shakes his head.

“Taller than you?”

“He’s a sasquatch.” It seems rueful. She manages a smile, even if she can’t quite picture it.

“So that’s a yes.”

“Wait till you see his hair.”

“His hair?”

“Sam’s hair has been dubbed,” the Angel in the backseat interjects, “majestic. By his many fans.”

She turns, eyebrows raised in question. The Angel – Castiel, his expressions are hard to place. Placid, but invested. Like he doesn’t understand her confusion, but is ready to explain anyway.

“There have been fans.”

That doesn’t explain anything.

“Pretty sure Mom doesn’t need to hear about Sammy’s own swimfan.” Dean catches Castiel’s eye in the rearview. Mary wonders if that’s a reference or else just slang for something she doesn’t know.

“What’s a swimfan?”

Dean shakes his head. “Point is – Sam needs a haircut. Constantly. And a slice of pie instead of a salad once in a while.”

It’s so brotherly, like a well-trod and pointless argument, and that makes her smile. They must have so many paths, so much ground, all well-walked and easy between them. She aches then to find her youngest and see Dean with him. If the way he looks when he’s talking about his brother is anything to go off of, they’re solid, they’re good.

She settles back into the seat, settles back and watches the road instead of Dean.

 

-

 

They have leads. They have leads and Dean is reassured that whoever took his brother wants him alive, snapped a rectangle phone with quiet ire in the vet-cum-surgeon's home but then thawed.

“Those sons of bitches have no idea what they got themselves into.” Is what he says on the way home, and she bites her tongue. She has no idea either, not really.

The hardness in her son is not surprising but it takes her breath away nonetheless. The ease with which she falls back into fighting, into hunting, disturbs her. She kills that woman – Ms. Watt – without hesitation. But nothing disturbs her more than -

Deans disposes of the body, the car. Is back and unruffled, with an unaffected look in his eyes. He’s not above violence, not above torture to find his brother. He’s not above murder, not bothered by her committing it. He’s a hunter through and through, and not making apologies for it.

She sees it there, when he attempts to comfort her. He’s steady and she’s supposed to be relieved. He’s good at what he does and is proud to be a hunter and she’s supposed to be proud too. And he’s -

He will find Sam and he’ll burn the world to do it and she feels invisible until he softens like he has to protect her from something (but not from this reality, not what he is, and isn’t that bizarre, as if she should be made comfortable by his skill, his promises of his brother’s fortitude, instead of devastated). He takes his anger out on the Angel who bears this in stride, offers her an apologetic smile and says ‘he’s like this whenever Sam’s in danger, it’s best to just stay out of the warpath’.

She thinks about selling her son’s future to bring back her husband.

Dean’s become her. And she has no idea how to grieve for him over it.

 

-

 

Later, when the Angel is gone and she overhears Dean ask him over the phone how not to overwhelm her, she makes herself ask harder questions. She asks how she can face Sam after making that deal with the Yellow-Eyed monster, knowing that it destroyed her family, that it was there for Sam.

After a moment – words that are empty, soft lies between them – he goes for the liquor, brings it over and pours them each a finger. He looks her in the eye, steely and more honest when he says,

“Truth is – not one of us can judge you for your deal. Dad made the same one. I made the same one,” Dean says. “You saved Dad. Dad sold his soul to keep me kicking. I sold mine to bring Sam back. By the time they dragged me to hell, demons wouldn’t even deal with Sam. No more deals for the Winchesters.” He says it with a laugh and it pushes tears down her cheeks.

“Then how are you even - ”

“Cas.”

He doesn’t elaborate, but he touches his shoulder.

“I started all this,” she whispers, three quarters to herself. Her and a Yellow-Eyed demon.

“Fate started all this,” he counters, like it’s that simple, like he believes it. “Heaven and Hell decided to fuck with our family. None of us ever stood a chance.”

She wants to ask what he means but it sounds too big.

“Tell me about the Angels,” she asks instead. Dean’s mouth turns sour.

“I guess you should know, since it’s gonna come up... Lucifer’s topside.”

It’s not an answer to what she asked. It’s such a leap it takes a minute to process.

“...Lucifer.”

“Yeah. Right – demon Sunday School. Lucifer rebels against God, corrupts a human – the first demon, Lilith, she was a real bi – uh - ” he clears his throat. “Anyway, God gets pissed off at his favorite monkeys – that’s us – getting corrupted, Lucifer gets slammed down into a cage in hell. Jump forward a couple thousand years, the End of Times kicks off, and Angels start coming back down to Earth to join the party.”

Her eyebrows shoot up. “End of Times? I thought you said... you said something about the Apocalypse.” Had he meant… literally?

“Yeah.”

“How did that happen?”

His lips take that sour look she knows. “Mom...”

“Please, Dean. I have to know.”

He sighs. Then he makes himself another tumbler of whiskey and offers her the same. She accepts. It’s minutes before he answers. She waits him out.

“I was on borrowed time already. Fake time, that’s how it felt. And I could deal with it, with Dad’s death. Process. But when Sam died...”

“You sold your soul.” And Mary understands because she – she sold her sons’ fate for John, not that she knew what she was agreeing to when she did. But would she have sold her soul? She honestly doesn’t know. It’s - it’s too much. It’s too big for one brother to give to another, and yet Dean’s here, blasé and unregretful.

How little does he value his own soul? His whole self?

“When my contract came up, Lilith sent her dogs to collect. And I spent four months in hell.”

She shivers.

“And then Castiel…”

“Rescued me. Just as soon as I started Apocalypse.”

Her expression must convey enough because he chuckles, just the once, wry and without humour. Then his eyes are gone, lost to his tumbler, obviously considering refilling and emptying it again. “Lucifer’s cage, it had locks – seals. Break the seals, break the locks. Break all the locks...Apocalypse Now.”

She waits for more but Dean doesn’t speak.

“Dean?”

“I broke the first lock. When I was in hell. Four months.”

She blinks. He doesn’t elaborate. And she realizes, though it was obvious, that his reluctance to speak is pain, is fear. She reaches over and lays her hand on his. “Whatever you did... it’s okay.”

He shakes his head. “It’s ancient history is what it is.” He does refill his drink then. “And then we had Angels and the start of an Apocalypse. Squirmishes around the globe over more locks – holy seals – and a lot of innocent people dead, lotta good hunters. Lilith got her wish and Lucifer sprang free – didn’t help that half the Angels were rooting for the End of Days and Lucifer’s about as powerful as something can get besides God and his sister. But we managed to do it – to shut him back in that Cage, cancelled the Apocalypse.”

It’s haunted, there in his eyes. The story is so full of blanks and holes it’s hard to know where to start with the questions. She focuses on the most practical.

“How did you beat him back then?”

“Not an option.”

“Dean?”

“Can we talk about something else?”

No.

“Sure.” Because he looks tired, at the end of some rope, and she’s not without compassion.

She asks about John, and before long Dean’s talking about Sam again. She doesn’t stop him even if she wants to, because the only time he doesn’t look tense is when he's talking about his brother, so far at least. But it turns quick to misery, to worry about where Sam is and what’s happened to him, and she turns the conversation to old hunts, shared ground. She learns nothing new except that Dean’s hunted things even her father hadn’t, and that she needs to memorize an exorcism because demons have become a common occurrence instead of laughably rare.

And in the morning Dean’s Angel calls with an update on Sam.

 

-

 

Sam is bloody. He’s been cut into, burned. Dean had shown her photos, but he’s - he’s real and here and dirty and in pain and that’s her – that's her baby. He’s tied and tired and it works through her, something like horror.

The one good thing about dying was that it was supposed to be over - you weren’t around to feel the guilt of leaving. Somehow, whatever brought her back missed that memo. Because she feels gutted when her eyes land on Samuel, all her failures choking up her throat the moment they lock eyes.

And then -

For a moment, she’d felt a new fear catch in her chest, that he wouldn’t recognize her, that her influence on his life had been so minimal that he would look right through her. For a moment she’s paralyzed because if she hadn’t known who they were looking to find, she wouldn’t recognize him. He’s not a baby, not six months old. He’s a man, rough and tired with hollowed, hardened eyes. But the breath she’d been holding released when recognition had clicked onto his face, when all his features softened into something that didn’t scare her.

“Mom?”

Just the sound of it -

The Brits let them go. Or they let the Brits go. She’s not fully sure who won this one, if she’s telling the truth, but they’re stumbling out of the basement and off the farm and Dean hasn’t let go of his brother for a second, won’t let her or Castiel help.

Sam’s arm is around Dean’s shoulder, Dean helping his brother take careful steps on a damaged foot, on a leg with a bullet wound. He props Sam against the side of the Impala and cups his face, checks him over. His hands don’t leave Sam, holding his face and turning it, his neck, and then one rests on his chest, the other on his arm. She watches, throat tight.

“I’m okay. I’m okay, Dean.”

“That bitch had you for days.

Sam’s hands reach up and circle his brother’s wrists, something fond in his eyes that makes her chest feel tight. “I know, I know. But I’m safe now. I’m fine.”

“Cas.” Her oldest says it like a command. His Angel obeys, as if it were. She tilts her head, curious and a little perturbed, as Dean finally steps back from his brother and Castiel takes his place, two fingers pressed to Sam’s forehead.

The glow of white stops her throat. And then Sam’s wounds are healed. An Angel of the Lord.

“Thanks Cas.”

“How do you feel?”

“Better. And like I could sleep for days.”

“Your internal injuries were severe.”

Sam and Dean have a silent conversation with their eyes and brows. They glance at each other, Sam away then back, Dean worried then annoyed, shifting to tense.

“How severe?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Sam cuts quickly.

More silent communication. Sam with an abortive headshake. Dean with a sigh out his nose.

“Let’s get back to the bunker,” Dean relents. Mary tries to make sense of what just happened. Even so, she doesn’t miss that they when they talk to each other, it’s The Bunker. They don’t call it home.

She’s starting to wonder if either of them have ever had one.

 

-

 

Sam won’t stop staring at her on the drive back. She can feel his eyes and it gets under her skin. He’s halfway resting, he and Dean swapping information about what happened, going too fast for her to follow it all, names and concepts she doesn’t know. But Sam’s there in the back, stretched out, and though he’s talking to Dean, though he’s exhausted, he’s looking at the side of her face.

He’s older than her too. His forehead is lined from worry, just barely but enough that she can see under the days of grime. There are circles under his eyes that aren’t his fault, torture and exhaustion, and a few days’ worth of hair along his jaw. She tries to find remnants of her chubby-cheeked baby but this is a man, overly tall and overly worn. He has a mole on his cheek that’s familiar, but his eyes are hazel now, not blue like when he was born. That’s the case for a lot of babies, Dean too, but it’s weird to look into those eyes and not be able to know or say when they changed. His hair was soft as eiderdown and he still had that baby-smell just... just last week, to her.

He’s a stranger, and she must be to him, and he studies her as carefully as she avoids studying him.

The Darkness brought her back, Dean had told him, as if that explained anything. To Sam, it seems to have explained everything.

“Turn on the radio?” she asks Dean when their reports are done for the moment, when the car lapses to quiet. He does with a grin, belts out Skynyrd with a joy that’s oblivious to her discomfort now that he has his brother back.

 

-

 

Their bunker is all practicalities. Mary hadn’t thought about that when they were looking for Sam but now it’s hard to avoid.

It’s sterile, empty and unlived in in so many ways. Here’s her room, like a dorm bunk. Here’s the bathroom, like a locker room. Here’s the med room, the gym. Here’s the kitchen again but you know that – no photos or art on the walls – the library, we spend most of our time here – without a touch of anything personal – and you already know where the garage is. Explore the rest if you want, it’s mostly books and storage. There’s a – another look between the boys again, more silent communication – storage room in the west corner, careful not to poke around too much. She almost laughs at how bad that cover up was. She’ll find out whatever they’re hiding when she has more time.

(It’s a dungeon, she learns eventually, and doesn’t know why they tried to hide it because it’s obviously for interrogating demons. But then she thinks about Sam tied to that chair in the basement they saved him from, thinks about all the empty spaces and pauses in their speech, the things they don’t say, and her stomach turns. This dungeon has memories, and she’s not sure she wants to know what kind and why.)

Sam showers. When he returns Dean’s face relaxes into ease, his brother standing tall as the doorway and seemingly whole and healthy. It takes her breath away a little too, him there and in one piece and so – so big. So real. Her baby.

They eat takeout. She never was much of a cook, and that reality seems to strike a chord with Dean. A betrayal of how he’s built her up in his mind. It’s uncomfortable to see it, plain as day, that he’s grappling with the fantasy versus the reality.

She’ll never measure up to a dead woman.

“How long have you lived here?” she asks instead of trying. There’s so many more important questions, but it’s one that doesn’t make them pause. They don’t hesitate when they answer, to tell this particular story, and she holds tight to that, to all the scraps that make sense and as many of the ones that don’t as she can.

Later, Sam’s a giant in her doorway, a journal in his hands. She knows nothing of him, they’ve shared a handful of words, if that. He’s her son, and she loves him so much it hurts. He knows what she did and it’s hard to even look at him. She let a monster into his room when he was a baby and he’s here, desperate forgiveness written on his features.

“If you ever wanna talk... I know what it’s like to come back and not feel like you really fit.”

Is he talking about leaving for college, or is this something else? The way he says it sounds fresher. Stories all the way up, secrets all the way down. She doesn’t want to ask.

He’s standing awkward in the doorway and she realizes he’s waiting for something. It’s impossible to reconcile. She’s the mother and he’s the son, but he’s offering her his ear and counsel, and in the same breath looking like a child waiting for a hug. She doesn’t know how to give him one, but she tries as best as she can with her words to feel out this stranger.

“I just have so much about you boys to catch up on. Mother stuff. You know, first tooth, first crush.”

It makes him smile. It makes her heart ache. First steps, first words. Dean’s had been ‘mama’ followed closely by ‘up’. Sam’s... Sam’s wouldn’t be the same.

She accepts the journal he hands her, but knows already it won’t have the answers she needs. It will have John’s story, not her boys’. And as much as she wants to know John’s, needs to grieve her husband, needs time and space to process that he’s gone along with her family and her life and now she’s left with this foreign land of Angels and Devils and secrets and -

What she needs now is Sam and Dean’s stories, because they are the ones living and breathing. She needs to find a way to know her sons as they are in the present.

“Dean said you got out of hunting.”

“Yeah.”

“And yet here you are.” It’s wry. She hopes it doesn’t sound bitter. She got out, yet here she is.

“Well, this is my family. My family hunts, y’know? It’s what we do.” He hesitates. “Mom, for me... just, um... having you here, fills in the biggest blank.”

Her chest aches. There’s relief in there, mixed up with the grief of what she lost in a three-decade blink. It’s mean to feel it but she does, joy at the fact that Sam missed her. That his mother was an empty hole and not nothing to him. She existed, she mattered, even unremembered. She was a blank that needed filling.

They hug, finally, and he’s so tall, so solid, and it’s so foreign but he’s shaking and she realizes with a jumbled up stop in her throat -

This is the first time. The first memory he’ll have of hugging his mother for real, as a human not a ghost, in this timeline. This is Sam’s first hug from his mom. God. She chokes up, hugs him harder. Feeling him cry is a relief. Crying herself is a relief.

He leaves after a minute, a sniff and an embarrassed shake of that messy mane of hair, and that’s a relief too.

She reads, doesn’t sleep. She cries, doesn’t make a noise.

She slips through the bunker at night, pokes and prods. She slips passed the closed doors of her sons rooms, hears nothing from Dean’s, not-quite-snoring from Sam’s. She finds weapons, books – so many books, so many that would have helped her family – she finds food and a mess of old candy and junk food wrappers, dirty laundry, and evidence that someone cleaned up the blood from earlier. She finds...

She finds the Angel. He’s awake, reading. He glances up when she stumbles upon him.

“Mary.”

He has a presence she can’t quite describe. He looks human but doesn’t feel it. There’s a stillness around him, an intensity to his eyes that goes beyond what’s natural. They’re almost too blue, in a way she can’t quite describe, doubts would catch on film because it feels like a trick of the light but it’s there even with him half in shadow with the dim lights. It could be comforting considering what he is, but mostly it raises her hackles ever so slightly, like static electricity before a storm.

“Castiel.”

His smile is light, easier than her boys’. “Cas is fine.”

“Right.”

She dismisses the urge to return to her room and instead slips into the other cushioned seat near him. He sets aside the book.

“Do you... I don’t know much about... Angels. You healed Sam earlier?”

He hums. “I’m not as powerful as I once was. None of us are anymore.”

She enquires, and he tells her in brief about Angelic civil wars, politics, in-fighting, his stories weaving into some of what Dean has told her. But Castiel tells her about clipped wings that stop his ‘flight’ (teleportation?) and the ability to move through time and into dreams and cover himself with invisibility. About stolen Grace and being unwelcome at the source, unwelcome in heaven where an Angel feels most at peace.

“You’ve lost... so much.”

“No more than anyone else,” he counters, an eyebrow up but not looking at her, lost in thought. She thinks about her sons, about Sam’s face sitting in that basement, about Dean’s when he said he’d been to hell.

“Are the other Angels the same?”

“What little of us left, yes, except for Lucifer. The Cage was too far removed from Heaven for the banishment to affect him. I’m not certain if it would have even so; Archangels are a different sort of being. They don’t rely on Heaven to help replenish their powers.”

“And you do?”

He tilts his head. “Heaven and Angels are a... closed system. Angels are the bricks and mortar, living batteries, we power that which is in Heaven; the Archangels do this too. But without Heaven’s existence, we would have no Grace. As our numbers wane, the reserve from which we can draw wanes, the collective energy of Heaven.”

There’s a tragic sort of beauty about it.

“And... God?”

His lips turn downward. “Chuck is... absent.”

Chuck?

“God’s name is Chuck?”

His gaze snaps to hers. “Dean didn’t tell you?”

“He said... he said God left with his sister. His sister saved me. That’s all he said.”

“Typical Dean.” He sighs and shifts in his seat. She wonders if he needs to, if he feels comfort and discomfort the way humans do, or if he picked up their habits by association, does it to set humans at ease. “God left us long ago to find our way. We only discovered recently that he’d returned, his Holy Light masked inside a human body, a Prophet – Chuck Shurley. He was...”

He doesn’t say disappointing, but he doesn’t need to. Mary understands disappointing fathers. It’s why she’d always loved how good John was with his sons.

“And Dean... knew this Chuck?”

“And Sam. As Chuck the Prophet before the Apocalypse, and later as God. Chuck lived here briefly, helping with the Darkness. He’s gone again though, and his influence on this world has been a light touch since the days of the Old Testament.”

Her head is spinning again. At that point she begs off and slips back into her room. She wonders if this is a strange nightmare. One with torture and blood and death, with Angels and Gods and with the Devil roaming earth.

Fitfully, she falls into sleep, and mostly into actual dreams. Her sons burn up before her eyes, on the ceiling. Her husband’s face turns twisted, eyes black then yellow. Black smoke chokes her lungs while an infant Sam is barefoot and bloody, mouth painted red before an adult Dean stabs him. The knife he uses goes through Dean instead somehow, into his own stomach and they die together on a pyre while Mary screams to a God wearing a faded Ramones t-shirt.

 

-

 

“If Lucifer doesn’t have a stable vessel, now’s the best time to strike.”

“You just got back, Sam. Take a damn day or three to get yourself back together.”

“I’m fine.”

She tiptoes toward the kitchen. Dean sounds agitated, Sam no less so.

“I’m just saying, we don’t have a plan, don’t even have a way to track him. I saw we lay low, go on a couple salt ‘n burns, get back in the groove.”

“Back in the groove? Dean, I was gone for like a week. And it sucked but it’s not like I need the kid gloves.”

There’s a pause. Maybe Sam doesn’t realize how worried his brother was, or how terrible he looked, bloodied and bruised before the Angel touched him.

“Yeah well – maybe it’s not you I’m worried about.”

Another pause. Mary’s heart thrums from the hallway.

“You think – she'll want to pick up hunting again?” Sam’s voice is surprised. She closes her eyes.

“What would you do? She wakes up 30 years in the future and her husband’s dead, kids are hunters now?”

“She wanted out.”

“So did you.”

There’s quiet. She wonders if its pensive or tight or if they’re communicating with their eyebrows again. After a minute, Sam picks up again, his voice quieter now, straining her ears,

“This is our family. You’re right – she's gonna pick up hunting again.”

“Bingo. So look – maybe going after Lucifer right now isn’t our best play. We haven’t got any way to kill him anyway. We leave Cas and the angels to worry about the Devil and we just focus on getting back in the saddle.”

“And when Lucifer gets a full-time body?”

“I’m not saying we ignore the problem, just... I just got you back, man. Alright?”

There’s a story there. More stories. A scrape of the chair on the ground as one of them moves, smack of footsteps on the stone, a soft sigh. A hug? Is that - the rustle of clothes, a deeper sigh and Sam’s voice is muffled when he says, “Yeah.” Deep exhale, almost… breathy? “Okay.”

She waits a moment, both of them quiet, then tiptoes back a handful of paces walks more noisily up it this time, letting her shoes slap the ground to announce her presence.

Her sons don’t look guilty, or suspicious, or like they’ve been talking about her. They are across the room from one another – no way they could have whispered like they were before from that distance – looking bland as morning can be. Sam tenses when he sees her but with what she’s starting to recognize as a desperate need for affirmation or approval wafting in her direction, rather than as an indication he’s hiding something.

Her teeth grind over her coffee, an itch down her spine. She doesn’t comment.

 

-

 

Mary has to leave.

She has to. She needs to stretch her legs and get her bearings and find a way to breathe. She’d thought being close would be easier. She’d thought she would learn about her sons and learn to be a family. She thought wrong.

Her boys aren’t boys anymore. They’re weirdly halfway-so some days, in a way that speaks of a wildness, like they’ve never been properly civilized. When they aren’t hunting, aren’t brooding or fighting, they’re teasing, pranking, all kinetic energy channeled into exercise and sometimes roughhousing, too old and big for it but it doesn’t seem to stop them from boyish grappling over the last beer, headlocks and noogies for the best spot on the couch when they take a moment to unwind, rock paper scissors over who’s turn it is to wash the dishes. It warmed her at first, but after a day, a week, it had been too much. They’re children but over-grown and unteachable. Dean especially. Sam’s years away taught him how to fit in society; Dean’s never truly learned that skill.

Every day with them is a reminder of her failures. Her unruly sons, raised by wolves. Her hunter sons, raised in blood with more than too much of it on their hands. Raised by a man whose memory makes them flinch more than it makes them fond, smiling grim through their teeth as if she doesn’t notice the lie in their eyes. Her soldier sons, with iron for bones and scars that have been healed to nothing so many times their Angel says their bodies have been formed wholly anew more times than anyone else in the history of existence, himself included.

(That admission had surprised even them, with Sam pausing to take it in, and Dean reflecting a moment then shrugging. “Sounds about right.”)

She has to leave. 

The sense that she’s an outsider is too deep to ignore. She’s a voyeur in their space, watching and participating in something she’ll never be inside of. Their rhythms, their in-jokes, their shared judgment and acceptance and opinion, all silent but equal in measure, agreed upon until they argue, then smoothed over just as easily. They rise together like a tide, set together like the sun.

It scares her, if she admits it, but she doesn’t want to think of their deals, their bloodshed, the erased scars written on their flesh of all that they would do for each other. More than she would do for John, and she sold their lives to this just to get him back. The way they need each other is so big it chokes out everything else around them, even the air in the room. How they ever made room for the Angel to fit into their world, she isn’t sure, because sometimes it’s like there’s no space in all of existence for anyone but them.

Brothers shouldn’t need each other that much. They shouldn’t love so deep it burns and shouldn’t make others around them feel shamed just by the looks they share, as if an interloper on a private moment. She looks away; she left them to this; she doesn’t know what it means and can’t admit she might. It keeps her up at night.

She has to leave.

Hunting with them is a headache, an exercise in redundancy. They’re tapping away at computers and her presence isn’t needed, her skillset a hindrance. How many times had Dean promised they were ‘damn good’ hunters? They are, it seems, and know just what to do with any information, any update, any call they get from another hunter who sounds out of his depth. They have a library, a bunker, an Angel. They have a system, a machine they’ve oiled smooth, and they talk in grunts and stares and sometimes in words but less than is normal.

It doesn't help that they see ‘Mom’. They see a woman to protect. More Dean than Sam, but the kid gloves are getting old. Leaning into it doesn’t work worth a damn either; they’ve never had a mother chastise them and attempts to do so die quiet, uncomfortable deaths on their ears. She feels the reversal of their roles halfway through their first attempt at a case. She’s the errant child, younger and less experienced off following her hunch; they’re the worried parents. Deanna and Samuel, Dean and Sammy. Why did she ever name them after her parents? How time has come around to bite her with her good intentions.

She has to leave.

They haven’t filled in the blanks, their stories’ stories have holes that neither of them will fill. Castiel gets cagey with the truth but at least he doesn’t lie (she thinks; she hopes. Can Angels lie?). She won’t find the truth anywhere else, but it won’t hurt so much when it’s not in her face, when she has the space and time to put together all that she’s learned, draw the timelines out on pages she’s not afraid they’ll find.

She has to leave.

So she does.

 

-

 

“My number’s in your phone.”

“I know, Castiel. Thank you.”

He’s seeing her off. It’s odd that neither of her sons are. She tries hard not to think about it.

“I... know it can be difficult. Sam and Dean are... difficult.”

He looks like he does know, looks too knowing and she blinks hard and looks away. “I just need some space. To breathe.”

“If you have questions...”

There’s things she wants to know; there’s questions she doesn’t want answers to.

“Thank you.” She leaves. The Angel looks sad. It can’t be for her, she doesn’t think, because he doesn’t know her. Which of her sons he’s in love with, she’s not certain, or maybe it’s both. But she trusts Angels don’t rebel against Heaven for anything less than love or hatred, and Castiel hasn’t shown any of the latter.

Do they love him back? Does he even know? More questions she won’t ever ask.

 

-

 

There was some retracing of John’s steps in the beginning. His journal is a map and she followed it over the countryside, eyes skimming newspapers for hunts and leads. She found little left in his wake though and gave up that pilgrimage sooner than she realized, turning away from his pages before admitting she was doing so.

Chasing a ghost was what he did. She doesn’t need to do the same.

So Mary reaches out. It seems that everyone she knew in life is dead, or most everyone. The majority of them died not long after her, and she’s sure it’s not a coincidence. She’s too tired for the guilt and doesn’t worry at that tooth.

Bobby Singer’s auto-salvage is overgrown with vine and cobwebs. She slips through the rickety door and the empty house smells like smoke, slow rot and mildew. The windows are all blown out, the carpet’s singed and worn. The ash-covered couch creaks in a way no couch should when she presses on the cushion.

There are photos, tucked away in drawers and lockboxes, safe. She slips some in her pocket, ones with faces she recognizes, her boys in their youth. She traces her fingers over those, seeing her boys in their smiles, finally feeling like there’s some recognition in the cast of Sammy’s face, the mischief in Dean’s eyes. It brings a watery smile to see John in one, leaning easy in the twilight against his car, beer in hand. He looks older than when she knew him but still recognizable. Still handsome, and some of that hardness she’d expected to see on his face isn’t there, not when he’s standing next to his boys.

They had fond memories sometimes. They must have.

The library looks like most of the books are gone, were gone even before this place came undone. Sam and Dean, she suspects. Or mostly Sam. There’s half a dozen old phones on the wall, singed but legible, and she laughs so loud in the empty house it echoes. FBI, Sioux Falls PD, CDC, Health Department...

Singer must have been a character. Her fingers trace the phones and she’s sad she never met him, fond already. She wants to thank him for helping her sons. There’s no way, not anymore. She just takes instead – the photos, and a list of numbers she finds tucked away. Takes and takes and takes.

She starts calling one by one. The third isn’t a dead line. On the other end is another hunter.

It’s time to get back in the saddle.

 

-

 

Wally’s not much like her sons. He’s more timid, at least until he’s up against a creature he can tear into. He knows what he’s doing but he wasn’t brought up in it. Hunting is a life, and Wally’s a hunter, but his eyes haven’t lost their light the way Sam and Dean’s already look.

“A hunter bar?” she asks skeptically, looking at the place he pulled them up to. Her father hated mingling socially with other hunters; her late husband and sons seem similar.

“Best spot for a tip. You said you wanted to work? Someone here’ll have a case they’re itching to unload.”

She gets out, still looking at the front of the building. Wally stops short and she almost walks into his back.

“What?”

“I almost forgot.” He’s suddenly nervous, wiping his hands down the front of his jeans. “Your name, uh...”

“Mary?”

“Winchester.”

“What about it?”

“That uh, that might raise some eyebrows in there. I’m alright with the whole resurrection, mother to Sam and Dean Winchester thing. Some of them,” he thumbs over his shoulder, “might not take it so kindly. So I’m gonna introduce you as Cooper, yeah?”

He turns around like that explains something. It doesn’t. She hurries to catch up.

“Wally, hey,” she hisses because people are close now, “hey.”

“Don’t worry,” he hisses back. “Just be cool.”

About what?

He seems to know half the joint. She’s introduced to a handful of people but ends up at a table with a Sarah and a Keller and a Paul and a Roy.

“Looking for work?” Sarah slides into the long booth last, passes a beer down to Paul.

“Yeah. Just getting back in the game.”

“Back in?” Keller’s sharp. “When else were you in?”

She feels Wally tense a bit next to her and smiles easily. “It was a while ago. My dad brought me up in it.”

“Oh yeah? Anyone I know?”

“I doubt it. His name was Samuel.”

He grunts. “Said your name was Cooper?”

“That’s right.”

Wally’s fidgeting next to her. Roy’s looking between them, suddenly alert. Keller had asked it in earnest, looking for a connection or a spark of familiarity to bond through, but Wally’s a shit liar even when he’s not the one doing the talking. She’ll have to work on that with him.

“Raised by a hunter, name of Cooper, you worked this circuit before, and this is the first we hear of you?” Roy’s eyes are narrowed. She looks him in the eye. Sarah and Keller are tensing. Paul’s just sipping his beer, faux disinterest.

“Campbell. My real name is Campbell.”

Keller slams his beer on the table. They all jump.

Knew it!” He’s laughing loud and easy. “Knew you looked familiar. A damn Campbell, how many cousins has your family got? I thought the last of y’all died a few years back now. Five or so? Gwen and, what was his name?”

“Christian,” Roy provides.

Her eyebrows climb. This is news to her, that she still had breathing cousins until so recently. She remembers Christian, her little second cousin. There’s no recollection of a Gwen. “I didn’t know you knew them.”

He nods and it seems like the whole table is relaxing.

“Get why you didn’t want to let that name slip.” Roy shrugs his shoulders. “Don’t mean nothing here though. We won’t judge you for it; your old man ain’t the first or last hunter to let his wits slip and work alongside a demon.”

“I don’t work with demons.” There’s ice in her voice. He holds up his hands.

“Didn’t mean none by it. Just – Samuel was your daddy you said, and Samuel worked with the King of Hell, last I heard.”

Samuel... her father?

“He’s dead.”

“And probably dead to you longer if that’s how you feel about demons.”

She shivers, confused. These are more than holes; there are whole chunks missing. They must be referring to one of her older cousins. Samuel was a family name.

“If you don’t mind, I’d rather talk cases than my father.”

He cheers to that. Wally relaxes. There’s a rawhead in Colorado. She breathes easier once she’s had a chance to kill something. Then, she finally gets up the courage to find out what the hell Roy and Keller were talking about.

 

-

 

“And neither of you thought to tell me that my father – my dead, killed-by-that-Yellow-Eyed-monster father – came back from the dead for over a year?”

She can almost hear the wince on the other side of this phone call. Her shriek tones down into something she has more control over, breathing harsh through her nose.

“Well?”

“We... didn’t think it was the kind of thing you’d want to hear,” Sam ventures over the line. His voice is flat, tinny from the other end and she knows Dean put her on ‘speaker phone’.

“Why on earth would I not want to hear about the year you spent getting to know your grandfather?”

Another invisible wince. For the moment while she’s gathering her bearings, she realizes too late that there really must have been a reason.

“Because I killed him.” Sam’s voice is quiet but she hears it. She loses her feet, sits hard on the bed she was standing next to. “He was infected with this thing, we call it a Khan Worm. It wasn’t coming out so – I shot him.”

“That’s not the full story,” Dean adds, voice harsher, angrier than Sam’s. “Samuel was – look, Mom, Sammy did what he had to do. But I can’t lie, I was angling to kill that son of a... your Dad wasn’t the man you remember. Or maybe he was always that big of a dick, I dunno. But he sold us to Crowley, almost got me fed to ghouls, and damn near got us both killed more than once – tried to. I promised him I’d kill him and I meant it. Sam just beat me to it.”

She closes her eyes. There’s a story here, a long one, and it’s another she’s not ready to hear. So many blanks, so many holes. None of them so far have been filled with anything good.

“Tell me everything.”

 

-

 

She criss-crosses Virginia to Missouri, through the Appalachians. They’re beautiful this time of year and she takes her time tracking a wendigo before going on her way. She skirts north of Kansas, over flatter and flatter land, rolling hills then Iowa fields opening up on either side of the truck she’s tuned up.

The bar’s on the border of South Dakota. Wally’s not at her side but she heads in anyway. It’s funny, how she pauses outside for a moment still, looking for the right door. The days of men’s entrance and women’s entrances to bars are long gone – good riddance – but muscle memory is still enough to slow her all the same.

She slips in the front and orders a beer. Sarah and Roy have a booth and they wave her over.

“Mary, this is Walt.”

“Howdy.”

“Hi.”

“How’d things go in Virginia?”

She smiles. “Nothing to it.”

They clink glasses.

“There’s something killing folks down in Albuquerque if you’re still looking to flex. And if you don’t mind that kinda drive.”

“Oh?”

“Me ‘n Walt were gonna look into it but a pal called from Seattle. We’re thinking poltergeist but need to head up to be sure.”

Seattle’s not exactly a stone’s throw either, but that’s the way of things. Hunters cover territories, but those are wide and sweeping, and split most broadly into South versus North, or those who stick just around a few cities. The East-West milkrun seems to stretch a lot of good hunters for some reason, herself included.

She nods. “I can head to Albuquerque. I’ll give Wally a call, see if he’s free.”

“Sounds good – oh, hey.” Roy catches sight of someone over at the bar. There’s a wave and the table is flagging him over. Mary turns to see him, doesn’t recognize him, but he’s smiling as he slides over, into their booth.

“Roy, Walt. How’s things?”

“Gee thanks, Rodge.” Sarah flips him the bird and he laughs, some inside joke.

“Sarah. How the hell you been?”

“Better since I ain’t seen your mug in a while.”

There’s a resounding laugh around the table, including from the new man. Mary laughs a little too and he introduces himself to her as Roger, she tells him she’s Mary Campbell. He doesn’t comment on it and she relaxes more.

“So got a question – any of you hear or see any bodies recently, eyes burned out, husk-like?”

Eyebrows go up, including Mary’s.

“Can’t say I have.”

“I heard something about that from Garth.” Sarah’s eyes are narrow on Roger. He shifts in his seat. Mary wonders who Garth is.

“Don’t know why you talk to that werewolf.” Roy says the words into his glass. Mary stiffens in her seat.

“Because he’s harmless, and used to be a hunter, and knows everyone and everything in the circuit. Plus, if he goes darkside it’s not my mess to clean up.” Sarah says it like it’s that easy.

Mary doesn’t believe it. “He’s a hunter okay with living as a werewolf?”

She shrugs. “Vegetarian.”

Across the table, Walt snorts. “Only eats cow heart. What a saint.”

“So go and gank him.”

The whole table tenses. Walt glares at Sarah. For the millionth time, Mary is sitting in swiss cheese – full of holes and stinking. It reminds her of sitting with her sons.

“I thought not.” Sarah finishes her rye and ginger.

“Not worth the trouble,” Walt mutters, finishing his beer. The mood has slanted to the left. Roger turns to Sarah.

“So - husk?”

“Garth was asking, not telling.”

Roger shakes his head. “Dammit, Sarah.”

“If Garth’s asking, and you’re asking, then something tells me I know who’s really asking.”

Mary’s a step behind. Roy gives her the answer.

“Fucking Winchesters.”

Fucking Winchesters,” everyone else at the table echoes like a chorus, those of them with liquor in their cups drink deep after they do, a ritual. Their glasses slam back on the table all in time with one another. Well-rehearsed ritual.

“Winchesters. Like – Sam and Dean Winchester?” she blurts. Stupid, stupid to ask, to not sit and follow, but it just earns a shrug from Roger.

“Who else?”

Right. But -

“You know ‘em?” Roy asks, eyes bright and keen on hers. She’s not about to get away with too bald a lie.

“Worked a ghost with them not long ago.”

“After that shit with all your cousins, can’t have too fond a feel for them?” Roy digs. Mary purses her lips.

“Seems like they have a reputation outside just my cousins. I didn’t realize they were so unpopular.”

“Start an Apocalypse and people notice.”

She actually relaxes a little, offers a dry laugh. “Right. Of course.”

Sarah’s eyes turn back to Roger. “So what unholy shit did they unleash on the world this time?”

“This week? Who knows. I stopped asking after the Leviathans, tell you the truth.”

“Amen.”

Mary heard about those in brief, mostly from Castiel. Sam and Dean had told her they were the creatures that had killed Bobby Singer, and Sam had privately mentioned that there was a lot from that time they mostly don’t talk about anymore. As if that was helpful to her.

“Better not be another Knight of Hell,” Roy mutters. “Thing that killed Tracy and Pete was gunning for those shitstains.”

Their lips all turn down. The name Abaddon rattles around inside Mary’s brain.

“Well whatever it is, keep your eyes peeled, yeah? Anytime they stir up trouble, we all get hit with the backsplash.” That’s Roger, already counting empty glasses on the table and making motions to offer another around.

“And they walk away scot free ‘n squeaky clean.”

“I don’t know if that’ true,” Mary argues, nodding to Roger that she could use another. He slips up from the table.

“How’s it not?” Walt grumbles. “Winchesters’re unkillable.”

“You would know,” Sarah gibes with a grin and an elbow in Walt’s arm.

Mary’s eyebrows climb. “What’s this now?”

Walt and Roy both glance up at her tone, then at each other, then back to her. Sarah’s grin is fading and she looks toward the bar and Roger. Walt looks at his empty pint glass then sighs, sits back and crosses his arms.

“Thought everyone knew this story by now. S’not really a thing. Apocalypse was coming, anyone and everyone knew that Sam Winchester opened Lucifer’s hell-cage ‘n was his ‘True Vessel.’ No Sam, no Apocalypse. Any hunter with the balls would’ve done the same.”

Sam was Lucifer’s vessel? How – how did no one tell her that? And right now – right now Lucifer is topside and -

The rest of it catches up. She’s sure her eyes are wide as saucers.

“You tried to kill Sam?”

Roy picks up the thread. “We didn’t just try. Followed the Winchesters over two state lines, waited till they were good and asleep, got the guns out from under their pillows. Sam woke up at that, was about to shoot him when Dean sat up and made us. We did what we had to do.”

“You shot Sam and Dean?” her voice is pitched too high.

“Yeah. Good and dead. Didn’t take.” Walt’s expression is dark. “Never seems to with a Winchester.”

He’s not exactly wrong. Mary’s not about to tell him that.

“What happened?”

“We hightailed it out of there,” Roy’s talking again. “They must’ve been resurrected what – an hour later you figure?”

“Maybe less,” Walt grumbles. “Fucking angels.”

“That’s what you get for trying to mess with shit above your paygrade.” Roger’s back with a tray of beer. “Told you fools to let it lie. Now you’re spending the rest of your days watching your shadows for Dean Winchester.”

Dean, not Sam.

Roy eyes Roger darkly. “He ain’t looking or we’d already be dead.”

Like fact. No one argues. Dean wouldn’t – not another hunter, a human, not without... except there is reason. The reason is revenge. These men hurt Sam and that’s more than enough for Dean. She shivers.

“’Sides, it’s not like we were the first hunters to try and take down Sam.”

“And look how that turned out for Gordan, Kubric and the rest. Hell, look how pissing ‘em off turned out for Mary’s family here. No one’s hunted or killed a Winchester and lived to tell about it. ‘Cept you two, I guess, ‘cause you were smart enough tuck tail.”

Walt seems to take offense, raising a finger. “Shut up. That’s just stoking the flames of their goddamn reputation. They bleed and shit just like the rest of us. They’re just more twisted ‘n the rest of us too.”

“Twisted?” she dares to ask, stomach turning inside-out. There’s a meaningful glance between some members of the table. Walt shakes his head.

“Twisted. Sure you saw it when you worked that job with them – something about the way they are, especially with each other... ‘s just not normal. Not right.”

So it’s not just her who sees it. She feels sick.

“Come off it,” Sarah interjects, flicking Walt in the arm. “They’re hunters, they do good work. ‘N they have most definitely got PTSD like the rest of us, so lay off ‘em a little.”

“Hunters? Maybe, but Sam’s a goddamn monster and Dean’s not always been much better if the stories are true.”

Roger rolls his shoulders. “Yeah yeah, we all know – Sam Winchester, The Boy with the Demon Blood, Lucifer’s Vessel, Hell’s Chosen and inhuman from birth – and a hunter who’s still got a better solve-rate than any of us at this table. Hell, he killed Mary’s old man and you don’t see her bitching about him being evil. They kill demons and fixed the damn Apocalypse. Sarah’s right on this one, sometimes you get off your high horse and accept what’s given to you.”

Walt looks at Mary, chastised. She drinks deeply from her beer, blood pounding in her ears, incapable of comment. She almost chokes on the lager, throat refusing to unstick for a moment, eyes pricking. The Boy with the Demon Blood. Inhuman. They never told her – they never told her that Sam was hunted. That she’d done that to him. That he’d suffered any of this, all of this.

The conversation moves on, stories of old hunts, gossip about people she doesn’t know. She doesn’t pay much attention, distracted and discomfited until she hears a name she recognizes, dredged up from the recesses of memory from really not that long ago, not to her. A little boy she knew, she saved.

“Asa Fox?”

“Yeah. Funeral’s next week.”

 

-

 

She should have realized – did realize, on some level, but had never bothered to investigate – that there would be competition for their affections. It was just that nothing they’d said made her ever think the role of mother was even partially filled. There were babysitters, caretakers, but no one for long. There was Bobby, but that was different, and either way he was gone. And there were women, plenty it seemed, but none maternal, none who wanted to care for her boys instead of do what women liked to do with handsome, confident men.

And then she met Jody.

Goddammit but Mary is tired. Tired and afraid of her sons, of their reputations, their secrets, the reverence of the hunters surrounding them when Sam and Dean walk into a room.

Mary’s secret is officially out too, and that’s something she’s gonna have to think about – being Mary Winchester instead of Mary Campbell. It had felt too gauche to lie at a funeral, impossible with the boys there anyway.

Jody is smart, and funny, and warm with them. Mary pretends she’s not affected, but the way her boys prioritize this woman’s safety is something. She’s not sure, deep down in an ugly place she’s not going to acknowledge, if they would prioritize her the same. Or maybe they would, but if they had to choose, her or Jody...

“They’re not the problem.” She tells the other woman. It’s the truth. Or at least enough of it. They’re good boys. They’re good hunters. They’re a constant reminder of Mary’s failings, her deal, her wrongness in a world that’s moved on. She was a gift, a prize for Dean, plucked from heaven by a monster and given a second chance at something she’s not sure she wants.

But she agrees to breakfast, and sees how Dean relaxes when she does, and thinks to herself that that’s not something Jody has. Dean is her son, her little boy with a toothy grin who would blow raspberries into his brother’s skin. Sam is her baby, too tall and hard but still smiles like the infant she remembers. They might be on loan to Jody some days, and maybe on loan to others too, but Mary is the library and the books must always return.

 

-

 

The problem is – one of the many, many problems is – Mary knows obsession. She lived it from her father, reads it in the lines of John’s old journal. She grew up with it, felt it, ran from it. She hates it. And she’s never seen it plainer than in her sons.

The strangest part is that she’s not entirely sure what it is that they’re obsessed with. The life? Hunting? Saving people? That must be part of it, but that falls so short, and if that were all then they wouldn’t have – they have a werewolf friend and an Angel at their side and the King of Hell on speed-dial.

It’s not just the life. It’s not just their shared traumas, soldiering on in trenches they can’t let go of. She’s seen that too, more than she wants to. It’s a wonder they don’t show more signs of it, the way they don’t show more scars, their faces too pretty for the work they do. The Angel, she knows, and she wonders if he heals the scars in their minds the way he does to the ones on their hands and in their bones, in their liver and kidneys without a doubt.

They’re at breakfast. They’re tangled up on the other side of the booth the way they’re tangled up in life and death with each other. Dean’s arm is thrown over the back of the booth, Sam seemingly contended to have it there. Sam’s arm and elbow brush close to his brother’s side, their knees or calves or ankles are doubtlessly in each other’s space under the table. She has a whole booth to herself and they’re comfortably cramped on their side, bleeding into one another.

Maybe what they’re obsessed with is each other.

She watches how they move, how they order food, how Dean passes Sam sugar for his coffee, how Sam takes it without looking. There’s some indefinable gravity that keeps them aligned. Neither one pulls too fall away, neither one pushes too much. Sam catches her staring and elbows his brother gently. Dean moves his arm off the back of the booth and they both shift a little apart, aim at something more normal-seeming. Maybe they can’t get out because that would mean giving this up too.

The thought passes.

She shifts in her seat and tries to not ask about Jody Mills.

“So. Glad it runs in the family – once a hunter always a hunter.” Dean says over his coffee, waiting for a breakfast full of bacon that had earned a scowl from Sam when he ordered. A familiar script, Dean grinning at Sam slyly as he did it, both of them riling each other up. They seem to enjoy it.

That thought passes too.

“Hm?” She prompts, refocusing on what Dean said. They were past this, weren’t they? Or did they need to talk about it with her, and not just with each other?

“Asa. You uh, you saved him long after you left the life. Y’know?”

Ah. That. “I told you – unfinished business.”

He shoots a look at his brother instead of her. Is it skeptical? It feels skeptical. Maybe a joke though, he’s got an almost-grin. Sam’s return volley is dry, keeping his brother in line.

She considers idly if they ever invented a language for just the two of them, as isolated, lonely children. Maybe they never needed to, maybe they could always communicate like this alone, silent stares each worth a thousand words.

“Yeah yeah. Just saying, it’s good to know that none of us ever really let go of the family business.”

Sam rolls his eyes. She has a gnawing feeling this conversation is less for her benefit than it is for something between them. Everything is always between them.

“They sure tell a lot of stories about you boys.”

They tense as one. As a mother, she shouldn’t feel so vindicated by that, by snapping their attention back to her.

“Elvis seemed especially fond of you, Sam.” She lets the small teasing smile slip out as she takes a pull from her coffee. Sam’s look of awkward discomfort is a bit rewarding.

“Yeah. Well – it's a shame what happened to him.”

He’s great at deflecting, Sam is, subtler at it than his brother. He decides when to open up, she’s noticed, and what to share, and if it doesn’t fit that plan, that line he’s drawn for himself, then getting anything real from him is worse than blood from a stone. At least magic could help you milk a stone, she’s not sure anything in the universe can get past the walls her son has built.

After all – apparently he’s fought the Devil and won inside his own mind. Not that she learned that from him.

“Is it true that other hunters used to... be the opposite of fans?” she prods. Dean’s back straightens. Sam shuts his expression down a second too late.

“Idiots,” Dean declares. “Every one of them.”

“Who was Gordon?”

There’s a flicker of surprise on their faces; Dean’s turns angry. The food arrives and Sam suffers a smile for their waitress.

“Where’d you hear that name? At Asa’s?”

She shakes her head, smiles too at the waitress who’s now refilling her coffee then sips it before answering. “I’ve been in touch with other hunters, beyond just the two of you y’know.” She spreads jam on her toast.

“Gordon thought I was the Antichrist,” Sam is quiet but she can hear an undertone to his voice. Is it anger or fear? Dean would know.

“Gordon was an idiot and he killed his own sister. Him hunting you was bullshit and he got what was coming to him.”

She doesn’t ask if her sons killed him or any other hunters. She’s afraid she already knows. “It’s not your fault you were a vessel for Lucifer.”

Sam bites the inside of his cheek. He’s too thin, she can tell when he does it. “Yeah. About that.”

“About that.”

Sam at least looks a little chastised, but it’s a stubborn look, annoyed. She’s seen him use it on his brother. “Well. Gordon was before that.”

Another deflection? Or another story she doesn’t know?

“Why would he think you’re the Antichrist if he didn’t know about Lucifer wearing you to the prom?”

A muscle in his jaw works. “I had... powers. Back when Yellow-Eyes was alive. The blood he fed me as a baby...” Her stomach turns to ice. “I used to get visions, and some other stuff. Gordon decided I was evil because of it. We took care of it.”

Dean’s staring at his plate, but really, he’s looking at his brother out of the corner of his eye. The smell of her own breakfast is making Mary nauseous. In her mind’s eye there’s a little boy with a knife in his back because a monster wanted a General, one of the few stories Dean had told her. She’s starting to get a picture of what it really means, the deal she sold him to.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers, 30 years too late, futile. “For bringing it up. I just – hate hearing about your lives from strangers.” Now she’s the one deflecting. “I didn’t realize until recently that everyone knows your names. That everyone has an opinion on you, good or bad. Some of them blame you boys for things you had no control over, like the Leviathans, or Abaddon.”

They tilt their heads toward each other. Dean’s shoulders relax. “Yeah well,” he stabs his waffle casually, brings a bite to his mouth finally, “most hunters are assholes. Some are alright. And they all know not to mess with us.”

That much she knows is true. She smiles a little, bites her toast. She doesn’t tell them that others think they can’t be killed, even now. They probably know. Sam and Dean Winchester, mortals who refuse to die, who’ve made friends with Death then killed him, who’ve had demons and Angels resurrect them more times than most people can keep track of.

“Just wait till the rumours catch on about Chuck,” Sam adds with a smile. She hears and feels more than sees Dean nudge Sam with his leg under the table. They both seem to relax another fraction, mostly toward and into each other. Tangled up but that’s how they seem to like it.

She lets the thought pass and finishes her breakfast.

 

-

 

Walt and Roy avoid her like the plague.

“Boys are stupid,” Sarah comments over a shared plate of sliders. “Give ‘em time to realize you don’t plan to put one between their eyes ‘n they’ll come back around.”

“You sure they’re not avoiding me because I’m another unkillable Winchester?”

Sarah snorts. It makes Mary smile.

“Dead for 30 years sounds pretty killable to me. Can’t believe ‘the Darkness’ brought you back. That’s more badass than angels, I’ll tell you that.”

She points with a french fry and it’s almost too much. Mary finds herself adoring it, adoring Sarah. She’s uncouth in a way that reminds her of Dean. It doesn’t matter that Sarah’s older than she is, at least in age-years; she’s from a different time, follows different rules, has tattoos and dyed hair and a nose piecing. She’d winked when she caught Mary staring the first time (“Used to have more, turns out monsters pull ‘em out. Lost half my eyebrow ‘n figured a nose stud’s about as safe as it gets if I wanted to keep one”).

“Resurrection after this long is... difficult.”

“Oh hell yeah. I couldn’t do it. I’d be all ‘where’s my self-tying shoes!’ and shit. We were supposed to have colonies on Mars by now, y’know? Instead we’re still just killing vamps, exorcising demons.”

Mary smiles. “Yeah. I guess so. The job’s changed, or so my sons tell me. They do something called ‘hacking’ that I won’t pretend to understand.”

“God, your sons. That’s so weird. Aren’t they older than you?”

She shifts a little, can’t decide if it feels good or bad to talk about it. Like poking at a scab, but like someone else is doing the poking.

“They are.”

“How old were they when you... y’know.” Sarah has very little in the way of inhibitions sometimes. Mary supposes it’s not a secret, her death, her legacy. The taste in her mouth is sour all the same.

“Sam was six months old.”

“Jeez. And now he’s a giant.”

“Ha, yeah. Both of them are.”

“Guess it was a shock, huh? All the stories about him?”

Not as much as she would’ve thought, knowing she signed him up for that. It used to keep her up at night, the deal she made with Azazel, knowing that at some point he was going to slip into her house and collect on something but she didn’t know quite what. Something worth bringing John back from the dead for, something worth waiting a decade to do. Still, she’d never imagined this.

“Sam was always special.”

“I’ll say - telekinesis, chugging down demon blood, killing demons with his mind – beating Lucifer in his own brain. And that’s just what’s in the books! You gotta tell me – was he seriously soulless for a year? What about the rumours about them hiding a prophet from the King of Hell? Did he actually die again trying to close off hell? I swear that one’s gotta be real – too many sources confirmed Dean put out a straight up angelic APB, as if that’s not suicidal.”

Mary’s ears are ringing. She heard all of that, caught it all, parsed the words. Less than half of it made sense, and mostly that was the transition words between the nouns and verbs. Soul...less? Chugging down... what? Doing – what? Her stomach is trying to crawl up her throat, squirming at the back of her throat. It means she only manages to get out one question, one word.

“Books?”

 

-

 

She’s been finding her way to hunter bars and salt ‘n burns. It turns out, unburdened by her at their side, her sons have been tracking Lucifer. Tracking the gods-be-damned Devil, as if it’s their job and responsibility and within human capability.

Castiel tells her this in the same breath as he says they are nowhere to be found. Caught saving the President. The President. Caught ‘trying to assassinate’ the President, who Lucifer was possessing, because that is just, somehow, what the future is like.

Her sons are nowhere to be found, but that doesn’t stop her from trying.

Six weeks is a lot of time to kill. She hunts, she yells at Castiel, she searches and searches and searches, rages at empty motel walls when no leads present themselves. And in between, she reads.

The books arrive in the mail, delivered right to her motel door the next morning, paperbacks in a big box with an arrow on the side. Supernatural, their titles glisten. The drawings on the covers don’t look anything like her sons and it’s hard to believe this isn’t a massive joke, right up until she reads the back cover of the first volume. She almost throws up.

And then she reads for a week straight.

She reads about herself as a ghost. She reads about John making a deal with Azazel and curses the demon with invective that surprises even herself, then sets the book aside and cries. She reads about Sam with a knife in his back after all that, Dean holding him, and she holds onto a pillow and thinks of her sweet, six-month-old baby, dimples in his smile, dead at 24. She reads about Dean descending into hell and throws the book against the wall in pure, impotent rage.

The rest of the books are in “ebook” only format, published after the author’s demise. The author being the Prophet Chuck Shurley, aka God. Chuck, who went by Carver Edlund and wrote books about her sons. God, who’s sister brought her back to life.

Mary reads on. Even on the stupid laptop with the screen that’s too bright. She reads about Dean meeting Castiel, reads about Sam and Dean’s reunion. Her heart swells. She reads... and she reads. About an impending apocalypse, about time travel, about herself and things she remembers. It’s surreal, her heart hammers in her chest. It’s disorienting, and it’s told from Dean’s eyes, and that makes it more so.

“Why did you even bother to send him back in time?” She wonders aloud. No wonder he doesn’t blame her, even if he should. The Angels convinced him that he never had a chance, that none of them did. Her choices were her own, their blood is on her hands, and yet he doesn’t blame her.

And then she reads about Sam – Sam, Sam – Sam her son putting his mouth to Ruby’s arm and sucking.

The Boy with the Demon Blood.

She puts the books down for a week, too sick to read on. Focuses her attention on killing a werewolf, on working with Castiel.

“You were there,” she ventures one evening that blurs into all the others, no leads on her boys and their prison.

“Where?”

“There, then. With them. Before the Apocalypse, when Sam was... with Ruby.”

His eyes flick up to meet her gaze, impassive.

“Sam is, of course, an abomination.”

Her back shoots up straight. “Excuse me?”

His lips quirk. “You haven’t gotten to that part of the books yet, I see. That’s what I called him, once. I was drunk.”

Her throat works. Sound doesn’t come out.

“Sam and I have sorted our differences, and I have nothing but respect for him. But yes, I was there. And when I discovered what he was doing with Ruby, I was appalled. I never fully understood until later, when I glutted on the souls in Purgatory for power and thought that I could play at being God, all under the pretense of working toward a greater good.”

He runs his hands down his face, shakes his head, and leans back in his seat. Even after all this time among humans, there’s still something too deliberate about the way he moves. Does he move like this consciously, to express what humans do without meaning to – consternation, exhaustion – or is it reflexive for Angels too?

He keeps talking. “This is why Dean is Righteous where Sam and I… Every selfish thing Dean’s ever done, at least he didn’t pretend he was doing it for any reason other than what it was for real. He’s never craved power. Even with the Mark, which corrupts everything it touches, he wanted it gone as soon as he had it, didn’t even try to cling to the power, the addiction. The only thing he’s ever sold himself for is to save the world... to save his brother.”

Her hands clench and unclench. “Why did Sam...”

Cas stands up. “You should finish the books. You might be surprised at your sons. They did good, Mary. Sam did good.”

She reads.

 

-

 

It would be so easy to die again.

Dean made a deal with a Reaper and it’s time to pay up and Mary is ready. Dean is ready too; Sam is ready; they’re all ready. But Sam and Dean and their twisted-up thing together, whatever it is, they need each other. They won’t let go of each other. The world will spill more blood if they’re apart, and her knees quake just thinking of the damage they would wreak to get back to each other.

They don’t need her.

Cas won’t let it happen, kills her Reaper and Mary didn’t know that was even possible until it happened before her eyes.

She hates him in that moment, just a little.

She’s read the books, she understands. The world can burn, and everyone in it, John and her included. She was a gift but only that. She, like the rest, is superficial.

She survives, they survive, and there is bitterness and tension all tied up in them and her and their Angel. She wonders if Dean wanted it too, her death. They were going to let her pull the trigger; Dean was going to. Maybe it’s because it’s what a parent is supposed to do; it’s what John did. She shouldn’t resent him for it.

He will miss her when she’s gone, she knows that, but he has other people to protect, and she pulls him in new directions. Family is his priority and now he has a new member again. She knows that she’s a nuisance.

He's got a dead-eyed stare on the windshield, expression softening only when he glances at his brother then forward and hard again. He doesn’t look at any of them when he goes to shower, when he hides himself inside his room.

She leaves her door cracked each night she stays; her room here isn’t permanent but she selects this one every time now all the same. It’s not far from their kitchen. Sound catches and flows in the bunker in weird ways. She grew up with hunters; she knows how to worry at their secrets. Besides, she likes the sounds, the drops of water from the sink, the tick tock of some far-off clock. It’s too silent in this room at night. It reminds her of being dead.

There’s a pitter-patter of feet down some hall, the other one. The clock bleeds 3am.

“Dean,” Cas’s quiet voice carries well inside these walls. Mary slips out of bed and closer to her door. “How are you coping?”

“Coping?” a snort, or a scathing noise, or something like it. “I just went crazy inside a not-so-padded room and come back here to sleep in one just as small. Was worried Sam was gonna start hallucinating again if we stayed there any longer.”

Again?

“Your deal with Billie – it was risky, Dean.”

“I’m not the one here who killed her.”

“What would you have me do? Billie was ready to throw you in the Empty. It can’t have been your plan to let Mary take your place, you didn’t know she’d find you in time.”

“Of course it wasn’t my plan.” Dean’s words sound like a denial and Mary can’t tell if he’s lying. “I’m ready to go down man, you know I am.”

“And leave Sam behind?”

There’s silence.

“There’s no coming back from the Empty, Dean.”

“He’d have you. He’d have Mom.”

“He’d never forgive you.”

“Did once before.” Dean’s voice is almost so quiet she can’t catch it.

“Did you forget what effect your death had on him?”

Dean snorts. It’s unbecoming. “I remember that he hit a dog and took a year off.”

“We both know that’s not what we’re talking about.”

“Still happened.”

“And what other options did your brother have?” Castiel sounds... aggravated. Aggrieved, maybe, or some other a-word that rests on the tip of Mary’s tongue, unsaid. “The first time you died he became hell's pawn inside of weeks, drinking demon blood and twisted inside out by Ruby. Four months dead is all it took for her to get roots in so deep it took an Apocalypse to dig them out. When you – when we – were in Purgatory, did you want him to descend into despair and desperation again? To disappoint you again? Sam white-knuckled his way through by avoiding every hint of the supernatural for his time without you, and you made him hate himself for that weakness so much that the next time you died, he was summoning Crowley before your corpse was cold. He convinced a man to sell his soul just to get an audience with a demon and he tortured his way to information without remorse, Dean. Need I go on?”

Mary’s fist is in her mouth. She can taste blood. There are things she knows about Sam. There are things she’s heard about Sam. Things she’s read, and then some more that she suspected. None of it has felt as real as this conversation.

There’s a long silence. Mary tastes salt slipping into the corners of her mouth, down her cheeks. It mingles with the blood from her fingers, bit shallow but jagged. She breathes slowly.

Finally, Dean’s voice is raspy, raw. “I can’t lose him. It had to be me.”

“It had to be neither of you. Billie couldn’t be allowed to throw either of you into the Empty. I took the necessary precautions to make sure your final resting place would be where you can reach each other.”

There’s shuffling, a sound. She wonders if it’s a hug. She’s seen Dean hug his Angel and wondered about their bond. He doesn’t accept comfort from almost anyone, her included. Then there’s the sound of a slow inhale, steadying, and footsteps.

“Yeah. I... thanks Cas. I’m gonna try and sleep.”

“If you find your room distressing, would you like me to keep you company?”

It’s quiet a moment and she wonders if she missed it, but then,

“No... I should... I’m gonna check on Sammy. G’night Cas.”

Mary sits with her back against the cold wall and colder floor, both hard and unforgiving. The rollercoaster of life and death and her boys can’t seem to get off.

At least they have each other. Tears slip down her cheeks as she slips back into her bed. At least they have each other. And if she wakes the next morning and they’re not up yet, and if she hears them down the hall from where she’s seated in the kitchen, two matching sets of footsteps from the same room before another door opens and one disappears, only Sam appearing in the doorway – they just suffered weeks alone. The rooms here are too silent. The floor is cold and hard but Dean’s slept on worse, or in a chair maybe, and -

She leaves that afternoon.

She won’t ask. She owes them that much. She doesn’t want to believe. They need each other and it’s so deep and wrong it’s hard to look at and it almost doesn’t matter any more if there’s more to it or not – it's already too much, too tight of a knot for that to make it any worse.

She leaves with a goodbye and a promise to stay in touch, begs off on the excuse she has a hunt. They need their bunker to themselves. She needs – she needs to find her own way, to find something that isn’t poking at a history she hasn’t shared in. She needs a hobby that doesn’t involve trying to figure out her sons and their strange experiences.

That evening, she finds herself accepting an invite to grab breakfast with Mick.

 

-

 

Mary tracks down Wally. She’s going to need some help.

Lying to her sons won’t be easy if she goes that route, but it's not a one-man job either. Wally’s a shit liar, but then he says he’s got a friend he says is good for this so maybe she won't have to call Dean after all.

“Let me buy you both a drink,” she tells him.

He’s working a job with the guy when she rolls into town. He’s old for a hunter, been around the block a few times, and already knows who Mary is by the time she sits down for beers with them.

“Mary Winchester, I presume?” his voice has a gravel to it. She’s wary, but maybe a little intrigued. Older guys were never her thing, and he’s more than a little older, but she jumped 30 years in the future and can’t relate to young men anymore.

Wally hasn’t told her his name yet. “I’m afraid you have me at a loss.”

“Jerry Hollister.” His grip is firm when he shakes her hand, his eyes steady without being cold. “Heard we had another Winchester back from the dead.”

Her smile is tight. His is warmer. They both sit. Wally flags down the waitress.

“Do you know my sons, or only by reputation?” she asks. It’s starting to pay to know.

“Met Dean some decade back. Did a job with him and Sam oh... five years? They had us all on watch for shapeshifting Leviathans. Last time I saw the brothers was...” he taps his drink, “Kentucky. Was having some confusion on a witch situation, I called Roger and he passed me on to them. Turns out Sam invented witch-killing bullets ‘n I was much obliged for the assist.”

A small shred of pride blooms in her chest. She has no right to it, didn’t raise Sam in the slightest, but her boy is a genius and there’s something wonderful to know that he’s made things that save others that his fellow hunters can point to instead of his mistakes.

“Must be weird?”

Why do all hunters have to be such gossips? She laughs a little, ducks her head. Good god, she’s got it now – this man reminds her of her father. She’s not sure what to do with that information except have it worm around uncomfortable in her gut.

“I think the weirdest part isn’t the coming back, it’s the – everyone knows my sons. They’ve got wrinkles,” she laughs again, tries to hide her discomfort, “and stories. And my dead husband’s story. And – my father came back from the dead and died and I didn’t even know it.”

He nods, and she wants to kick herself for dragging it all out to the open.

“So what about you?” she asks, and he tells her his story, simple as any hunter’s and skeleton free (in the metaphorical though most definitely not literal sense). Nothing to hide. It’s refreshing as hell.

“Wally said you got a job for us after this?” he enquires, ‘this’ being the kappa they were hunting.

She nods, sips her beer. “There’s a demon. I’m told my sons are... experts in the area.”

“So why not ask them for help?”

She glares at Wally. He shifts uncomfortably, offers “Jerry’s good people.”

She’ll make that judgment herself, thanks very much. She looks back at Jerry. “They don’t happen to like the people I’m getting my intel from, right now.”

He snorts, not the reaction she expected. “Those two like anyone? Other’n each other?”

Her lips twitch but she tries to cover it. It’s unkind. “They have their Angel.”

“Right – the angel. Can’t forget him. Sam ‘n Dean Winchester, their pet angel, and their butt-buddy, the King of Hell. Unholy little ménage à whatever, but I guess it gets the job done.”

She tilts her head. His expression changes.

“They ain’t told you about Crowley?”

They have. She knew that Sam and Dean, and even Castiel – an Angel, and if that’s not the green light then nothing would be – had accepted his help before. That didn’t exactly make them friends.

“From what I understand, they don’t exactly work with Crowley. It’s mostly threats.”

“Right. Well, might wanna ask Dean how exactly he became a demon?”

Her eyebrows shoot up. “Dean’s not a demon?” It’s so ridiculous it’s almost laughable.

“Anymore,” he rejoins. She looks to Wally for confirmation. He chugs the last of his beer.

“Whiskey, anyone?”

“Wally?”

“I’ll get three.” He slips off his seat. Goddammit. Mary narrows her eyes at Jerry. He doesn’t look unkind, or like he’s enjoying this.

“Didn’t mean to hit a sore spot, just had to know how much you knew. You working with these Brits, I don’t much care, but had to make sure it’s not like your sons with their demon pals. No offense – I meant what I said. They get the job done, more of the job than most of us, and they pay in blood. But I want no part of demon politics and wasn’t sure if you were playing the same game or not.”

She wants to punch him. “You can’t honestly believe my son ‘was’ a demon.”

“S’what Jody Mills said to Donna Hanscum who passed it on to Adam Markow. Crowley gave something to Dean that turned him into a demon, and Sam cured him.”

You can’t cure a demon. Mary doesn’t say it, because she doesn’t know what’s true and not anymore. She might also need to have a conversation with her sons about how much they tell Jody Mills. “Then it should be obvious that Crowley and my sons don’t see eye to eye.”

Jerry shrugs. “Not what I heard about how things are between ‘em now, chasing Lucifer all over town. Still – enemy of their enemy is a friend, right? Not that Dean and Crowley don’t have a uh, closer relationship, but who’m I to judge who a man fucks? So long as I don’t gotta deal with that on this hunt.”

If it wasn’t for the whole absurd direction this conversation has taken, she really would laugh. “Dean – and a demon? A male demon?”

He looks surprised for a second, then like he’s sucking a lemon. “Didn’t think that last part was any issue, if the rumours are anything to go by.”

She feels like she’s going to regret asking. “Which ones?”

He’s weighing her up, she can tell, and looking like he’s aiming at backpedaling. “Never mind.”

She’s going to pull his hair out. Or possibly his beard. “I’ve heard all sorts of hell about my sons since getting back. One more thing won’t kill me.”

“Well I don’t know if there’s any truth to this one ‘n I doubt anyone’s said it your way, considerin’. Just that what your boys got with that angel, their kingly friend, but mostly between the two of them themselves – well ain't exactly...”

She waits him out. It pays off.

“Let’s just say it’s Biblical.”

Wally comes back with the whiskeys at that moment. Mary downs hers and steps up from the table. She tells Wally she’ll see him when he’s done with the kappa and doesn’t invite Jerry on the mission the Brits gave her.

 

-

 

Crowley isn’t what she expected.

She’s heard about him, read about him, but it’s different to see him, to meet him, to hear his accent and see his eyes and the smarmy way he tucks his hands into his pockets on that long and rich coat. If she didn’t know what he was, she’s sure she’d never guess. This is the King of Hell? This short, vacuous little weasel? She had expected... majesty. More presence. He’s so unassuming that her boys look like royalty in comparison, their cut jawlines and sharp cheeks and broad shoulders.

He gave her sons the Colt, the very one she just stole back. He also stole Bobby’s soul. He helped stop the Apocalypse. He also gave Dean that Mark that turned him to a demon. He’s saved their lives. He’s tried to kill them. He has nicknames for them. They don’t even try to pretend to want to fight him.

He offers to shake her hand and she lets him know she’ll kill him if he touches her. Castiel is bleeding out, Wally is dead, and this man (this demon) is insulting them.

“I was growing fond of the choir boy, too,” he says, and it grates. But he’s here, he’s helping. Why is a demon helping?

And her sons take all of this in stride – take the King of Hell’s sudden appearance, take the revelation of the existence of Princes of Hell, take a dead hunter and an injured Angel – all in stride. They trap Ramiel by means she’s never seen, in a ring of fire. The British Men of Letters were right about that, at least – the Winchester Boys know how to fight demons, possibly better than anyone else.

And then the King of Hell helps saves Castiel – without a deal or any real promise of reciprocation. He does more than she did to help. She got Castiel here, got Wally killed, and a Devil saved an Angel.

It’s so ludicrous she could cry.

“Let’s go home,” Dean says, and her throat closes. Home. To their bunker. Which is home, somehow, at least when he says it to Castiel, to her. When he says it to Sam it’s not. She has no idea what that means.

Cas is fine, whole but resting and Dean breathes easier. The King is gone. Sam is uninjured. Mary is dismissed.

She drives away and thinks about Jerry. He was wrong. Sam was missing and Dean was ready to tear apart heaven and earth to find him. Castiel was dying and Dean told the King of Hell – who turned out to be the Angel’s best hope for survival – to get lost. What her boys have with Castiel and with Crowley isn’t Biblical, and likely never has been.

She isn’t sure about the rest.

 

-

 

Nothing comes before family.

Or is that just what you want to believe? You’re an excellent liar, Mary.

Arthur Ketch becomes her counterpoint. Arthur Ketch is an asshole. He’s older than her. He’s pompous and cruel and cold. He’s everything she’s never liked in a man, everything the antithesis of John.

She sleeps with him anyway. She works with him. She avoids her sons. She won’t even put her finger on why, anymore. She’s not examining it.

But Ketch kisses her shoulder and tells her that his superiors want her help in bringing her sons in the fold and she’s reminded why she doesn’t mix work and pleasure – why she loved that John wasn’t a hunter, not when she knew him.

Her loyalties aren’t divided. They are always to her family.

“They want no part of this.”

“Don’t be so hasty, Mary. They’re smart young men.”

She snorts. “They’re older than me. And jaded.”

He pulls her hair away from her neck and kisses it. Half of her aches to lean into the affection; the other half wants to recoil, thinking of John, of betrayals imagined.

“They’d damn good hunters. They care about saving people.”

“Your team tortured Sam.”

He hums, steps back. She turns to look him in the eye.

“You chose to work with us.” It’s not an accusation, but it sure feels close.

“I understand that it was a... misunderstanding. Dean won’t ever – he won’t care.” Is it true? It feels true, but then – Dean works with the King of Hell. Surely Crowley’s hurt his brother at some point.

“So start with Sam. If we can convince him, if we can earn Sam’s trust... maybe Dean will follow. Just... talk to them. Give it a go and see if either of them make the right choice.”

Everyone understands Sam and Dean. Every hunter and every Men of Letters and the King of Hell and maybe every Angel too. They all know that all you have to get is one, because the other will surely follow.

They catch in her throat, the questions.  How much do you know about my sons? Tell me all the things they hide.

Maybe she’s a coward, or maybe she just doesn’t trust Ketch as much as she tells herself she does, but she doesn’t ask it. Instead, she agrees to talk to them. It’s high time she told them the truth, anyway. Even if they never return the courtesy of honesty in her direction.

 

-

 

The looks of betrayal on their faces is hard. It throws her on the defensive, which isn’t the way to do this, but the pain on Sam’s face, the accusation on Dean’s, it’s too much.

“Mom - we um... we have a... history with them.”

As if she could forget how she met her son, bleeding and burnt in that basement. Does he really think she doesn’t know? Doesn’t care?

Dean’s expression hurts. Mad, accusatory, like he’s four years old and she’s betrayed him by confiscating his favorite toy. If only this were as simple.

“So where does that leave us?” he asks, serious and cold when all their arguments fall to nothing, when she lands on the opposite side of a stalemate from them.

The little-boy face is gone, in its place a vicious rejection, nothing she’s seen on his face to date. He’s picking Sam, even though she didn’t ask him to choose, would never ask him to choose. He’s turning her out as if she had.

She’s not having it. “Same as always.” She’ll be damned if Dean thinks he can wash his hands of her just because she’s working with someone he doesn’t like. She doesn’t like demons, but here they are. “Family.”

She waits. They don’t speak.

“Just - hear me out, please.”

It lasts all of a minute. Dean pacing, Sam pinching the bridge of his nose, both of them frustrated, her own blood pressure raising under her skin.

You can get to Sam, Ketch had told her before she’d headed off to come here. I know it.

“When?” Sam asks. And she tells them – the truth about the Lakehouse, about who gave her the tip about Ramiel. That’s a betrayal too, their anger self-righteous as hell given the secrets they keep. As if she doesn’t regret what happened.

She tells them about her nightmares about Wally. Her pain.

“Good,” Dean says, vicious and mean. It’s a slap in the face. Mary doesn’t know why she ever expected any different. Both boys are Campbells, even if they don’t use that name except as a cover. They’re more stubborn and mean than her father, both of them.

For just a moment, she hates her sons. She hates their sins, their hypocrisy, their stubborn denials and secrets and the way they make a wall with each other and use it to push everyone else out.

The feeling is gone as quick as it comes, leaving her feeling sick and mad. But they don’t understand, and she needs to make them -

“I’m doing this for you. I’m playing three decades of catch up here!”

“And we’re not?!”

Dean lectures her – god, he tells her they were alone, he tells her she needs to be a mom as if she even knows how to parent a man who is older and harder than her, he calls her Mary and tells her to see the door and -

Even Sam dismisses her.

Her heaven involved memories of her perfect sons, her darling baby and his toothy-grinned brother, both adoring, both fitting warm and safe inside her arms. Her reality feels like hell. Shocking, and she’s choked up with tears the moment she reaches the car. She doesn’t need this. She doesn’t need – they don’t -

Who is she kidding?

They’re her sons, older or not. They have every single damn reason to hate her. They do hate her. And there’s nothing she can do about it.

Dean didn’t choose between her and Sam. Dean asked her to choose, and she chose saving people instead of her family.

You’re an excellent liar, Mary.

She – she throws John’s journal against her room at the compound that night with a scream of rage, almost tears out the pages.

She is John. She’s the useless man who dragged those babies around the countryside and left them for weeks on end. She’s the one who left them alone. She’s the one preaching about being a family while demanding they cow-tow to her demands. She’s the one who lies to them and pretends it’s for their benefit and not her own. She’s the one who’s too afraid to ask, hinting in the margins and between the lines without ever putting the truth of her fears to page.

They’re a snake biting their own tale – every damn Winchester.

 

-

 

Mary discovers that Sam’s forgiveness is earned through showing him what she’s accomplishing. He works it out in his head, she can see the gears turning, how easy it would be to make the same decisions she has, and how worthy those choices might be.

Mary discovers that Dean’s forgiveness is earned by almost dying. He works it out in his heart, she can almost feel the pain in his chest from where she stands, how devastated he’d be if he lost her again, that holding this anger and keeping her at arm’s length isn’t worth the cost, no matter how righteous his fury.

Sam visits and vamps attack their compound. They’d all be dead if he wasn’t there, if hadn’t cut off heads with the same calm expression he uses to study Latin, hadn’t thought to keep one alive to uncover the fact an Alpha is coming, hadn’t had the intel to know that’s possible, the experience to stall the damn monster and have a not-so-friendly chit-chat. They’d all be dead if he didn’t have knowledge to spell the Colt’s bullets and the practical skills to work with Mick to get the job done.

She’s seen him in battle but never like this. He takes up all the space his frame is owed, stands not just tall but larger than life, deadly but taking no joy in the kill. Sam is a force of nature when he hunts, when he’s serious and ready for battle. I am become death, destroyer of worlds.

She doesn’t apologize, doesn’t change, doesn’t do a damn thing but what she’s always done, but both of them forgive her. They drive away together and Sam was kind and Dean was worried and she doesn’t deserve it but covets it anyway. The universe extends beyond the two of them. It includes her. If they’d grown up with a mother, if they'd grown up stable, if...

It doesn’t bear to think about.

 

-

 

Suspicion is a dangerous thing.

We don’t trust the Brits.

They’re the last words inside her head before everything fades.

 

-

 

“I sold my sons’ futures for my husband. They’d sell the whole universe for each other.” She whispers it to herself. The words spin out and stretch, somewhere inside her mind. Everything is black, warping, pulling at reality like taffy, looping it back on itself, time over time.

She is a child again. She is in love again. She is with John again.

Sam isn’t a man, he’s a boy, an infant – a baby. He fits inside her arms where he belongs and he has not suffered, will never suffer. He is safe, safe, safe. (He won’t ever be safe, won’t ever because safe because she - ).

Dean is sweet with pie crust about his mouth and milk mustache to wash it down. He wipes his mouth on his arm and crows to hold his brother and she smiles and coos at him but holds her baby tighter.

“But he’s my brother,” he whines in a voice too deep, too old. “Sammy’s mine.”

She shudders and smiles through the sick clutch inside her gut. “Later Dean. Sam is sleeping.”

“I’ll keep him safe. He’s mine.”

She shudders out her breath and slips her baby into the crib. Safe from the world. Safe from Dean. Safe from her.

(He’s never been safe).

“Darling,” she says, and she’s cutting the crusts off his sandwiches, and the phone is ringing, and John is on his way home, and the sun is streaming through the window, and nothing hurts at all –

(It’s bile rising in her gorge, choking because they shouldn’t need each other like they do, she shouldn’t have left them to this, she never should have - )

She spins her sweet dimpled child and he giggles and his brother clutches at her skirts, demanding.

“Mary,” he says, voice echoing around inside her head like a gunshot and she gasps, pushes, goes deeper and –

The crib is in the living room. Her fevered child, crying all day, cutting teeth on plastic toys and his brother is on his tiptoes looking over the bars. He makes faces at his brother, stretches his features past the point of silly, and she pets his golden curls. His tee advertises his love of hugs but she can’t bring herself to lift him up in an embrace.

“Is Sammy okay?” he asks in his little-boy voice and her chest loosens, as if for some reason he might have sounded different.

“He’s fine.” She pets the hair back from his forehead with a smile, looks down over the bars into the crib, her baby’s mouth open loud and angry (thirsty for - ). Unbidden, like deep in memory, the song swims up softly,

Hey Jude… don’t make it bad…
take a sad song… and make it better
remember to let her into your heart
then you can start…to make it… better

She isn’t singing but it’s her voice, cycling the lyrics in her head, all around them. Dean’s voice complements in harmony, deeper and richer than her own, whiskey-rough from years of misuse. Her eyes well with tears.

You promised you’d keep me safe.”

Dean’s disappointment, his recriminations, his hatred is acid in her veins. How Sam was damned, is damned, by her careless weakness and she knows she knows she knows – how John failed them and wasn’t there and Dean had to – had to be – too much too much and she made them like this, they became like this because she -

“I hate you. I hate you. And I love you. I forgive you.”

And God but she deserves the hate. How can she – how can she look at him? How can she when she damned this sweet baby in the crib before them, begging for life when all she had to give was anguish – was blood and death and Lucifer and –

The song goes on, ebbing loud, even as he promises forgiveness she doesn’t deserve with each passing line,

Hey Jude, don’t let me down

But that is all that she has done.

You have found her, now go and get her

She is here here here where it is safe and she doesn’t want –

Remember to let her into your heart

She doesn’t deserve - !

“I need you to see me. Please.”

Then you can start… to make it… better.

She curls into him, into the acid on his tongue, the promises she can’t ever earn, and lets him drag her up from the depths of this dream.

 

-

 

It’s a small penance, jumping though the rift, jumping with Lucifer to try and save her sons. It’s a small penance. Dying would be easier.

But she isn’t dead, and she owes it to them to keep living.